Disclaimer, I live in the next town over from Sandy Hook. The shooting took place maybe 8 miles from my home. We almost moved to Newtown when we were looking for a place here in the armpit of Connecticut, but we had concerns about the schools (which were about special education and not the general quality). I know lots of people from Newtown, and a few of my friends went to Sandy Hook Elementary. I am incredibly lucky in that I am removed by one degree form people who were affected. I know people who know people, in other words.
The day of the shooting, I was at home. My kids, the same ages and in the same grades as the victims, spent the day on lockdown. I spent the day alternately crying and staring in mute horror at the television. My spouse came home early so we could greet the children as they got off the bus. We turned off the news and tried to decide how to talk to our kids about what just happened, as there was no way to actually shelter them from this. The shooting happened on Friday, and on Monday they would be back at school and out of our influence, and other kids would surely have tales of what went down.
My older son, who is autistic, was largely unaffected except for picking up on a general vibe at school and home that unsettled him a bit. My younger son, however, has not fared so well. While he went back to school without much of a problem, he has been plagued by nightmares and has an air of sadness about him that is proving hard to crack. We did have a tough year here, with the death of a close relative, major surgery, Hurricane Sandy and an uneasy housing situation, so the Newtown shooting was the icing on a mud pie of a year for us, him especially.
I think one thing that is bothering my son is a feeling of being…ineffective. My spouse’s company donated a bunch of supplies to the temporary school in Monroe, and my PTO organization has been working to see if the school needs any specialized equipment for their special ed classrooms, and I share these activities with him. These things don’t really contribute to a feeling of safety for him, nor do they help us to understand what we can do to stop something like this from happening again.
I’ve had lots of discussions in the wake of the shooting about what caused the shooter to go down this horrible path. These talks revolve around two subjects: gun control and mental health. My stance on guns is pretty simple: the 2nd amendment clearly delineates our right to bear arms, however, just as I can’t yell fire in a crowded theater for fear of hurting innocent bystanders with my freedom of speech, there should be limits imposed on gun owners for the same reason. I don’t support bans, as they are largely ineffective in my opinion, but I do support having to register your firearm. To obtain registration, you must complete a safety course and prove at measured intervals you are maintaining safe practices. In order to purchase ammunition for your registered weapon, you must produce this registration at the store. No more gun show loophole, stolen guns must be reported, and the Tihart amendment must be repealed. Mandatory background checks for every gun purchase. And seriously, if you’re one of those people who thinks this will make it easier for government to quell a revolt against whatever your discontent is, the government has flying killer robots. Not to mention an incredibly effective propaganda machine that will quickly make you look like deluded fools. So, by my reckoning making sure you know how to use a gun safely, giving law enforcement the tools it needs to trace and secure illegal guns and making sure “lawful” gun owners are the ones buying guns are all reasonable requests when you are using a machine that was designed to kill humans.
The mental health piece is difficult. There’s a pretty easy Venn diagram to draw that would show large overlap between gun rights activists who call for more attention to mental health that believe a single payer system, let alone the ACA is tantamount to treason. As a mother of an Autistic child who has been tossed around between state agencies and mocked in pediatricians’ offices, I can say with authority that the level of support for mental health is lower than the average person can imagine. Children like the Newtown shooter need a wide range of social and emotional support, something I know the Newtown schools struggle with. And sometimes parents of these kids need assistance in overcoming their reluctance to pursue help when mental health is the forefront of their child’s issues. There also has to be parity in the ACA between mental and physical health. I have a friend whom I’ve watched descend into paranoia and depression who will not go to a therapist for fear their insurance premium will go up. Doctors have to stop prescribing psychiatric medicine that is not coupled with a therapist’s guidance.
In the end, we as Americans need to look at what we value as a society. We denigrate teachers, call them freeloaders and lazy (oh, summers off they must be slackers) yet we expect them to put their lives on the line when our kids are in danger. We think the schools should do a stellar job in shaping our children into good citizens, but allow corporate intrusion into the classroom via standardized testing that sucks time away from building those skills. We give the military massive amounts of money while 22% of our children live in poverty. We let banking giants like AIG break the law and no one actually goes to jail. We praise violence in our media as art and make sexuality, something that involves a loving connection between humans, a secret shame. We cheer for the death of our ill, and we push the needs of the most vulnerable aside in the pursuit of profit. Frankly, I would rather have a national conversation about any of these points than debate a ban on Bushmasters.
And those are my thoughts on the Newtown shooting. I still cringe when I hear it mentioned in the media. It sounds…wrong. I only hope that something, any of the points I made above change because of the heartbreak and outrage of our community.